There’s an almost aggravating preciousness to how tender this dramedy of New Yorkers proceeds. The film features characters who have weathered so much insecurity amid all their devoted love. There’s no real threat of a family splintering or a marriage crumbling. All they need is a gentle reminder that their preference for books and perceptions of confidence needs to be kept in check. On one level, it’s refreshing to see characters more communicative and less hung-up on mild shortcomings. On another level, however, it never really takes off with this material.
The married couple Beth (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and Don (Tobias Menzies) are stuck in ruts with their careers. Beth is a novelist with the most difficult time convincing a publisher to publish her latest narrative. Don is a therapist who finds it challenging to offer advice to his clients—the two fain grins to stabilize things, where their anniversary of repeated gifts goes unquestioned. A fight is in their future.
An overheard conversation makes Beth realize that Don has not been honest about his wife’s latest manuscript. He tells his best friend Mark (Arian Moayed) that he doesn’t like her book, leading to Beth feeling so heartbroken she throws up. So much of Beth’s personality seems attached to this profession that she can’t bear that her husband doesn’t love her writing. Mark can relate to being a struggling actor, as does his wife Sarah (Michaela Watkins), a bitter interior designer and Beth’s sister. The four of them have become so disillusioned with work and need to learn a mildly tough lesson about how love isn’t bound by career success.
The movie plays out like a sanitized episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, where characters will fumble with their egos and have their intellectual mindset challenged. As good-natured as it is that these are characters who work to better themselves, it wraps up far too neatly. The moment where Beth and Don come clean about their displeasure is meant to be refreshing and freeing with how they have about their bottled-up opinions. The characters are positioned to be so enduring that hardly anything dramatic or funny comes about in the many careful exchanges.
Paced at 90 minutes, the film comes diced up that it almost inexplicably. This transforms Beth and Don’s adult son, Elliott (Owen Teague), into more of a prop for learning about being open with harsh feelings. He’s present for the meaningful development of how parents must set examples and allow others to flourish or fail on their terms. Elliott once mentions that he feels like a third wheel within his family, and it’s hard not to see it. One scene exists entirely for Beth to cover and protect her son like a baby. While it’s a funny and relatable moment for anybody with a grown-up offspring, Elliott ultimately comes off like the audience surrogate, presenting to remark how gross it is that his parents share an ice cream cone.
So many elements of You Hurt My Feelings are unique but are treated with dry humor and melodrama, most mild and little memorability. The performances are by far the best aspect, as Louis-Dreyfus and Menzies slip so easily into these roles I can’t imagine anybody else playing these characters. However, the believable nature of these characters can only go so far, and it feels like this film can barely find meaningful moments. It is so passive that even the good message of an honest relationship is given a soft send-up of people who are too precious to be hurt by anything more than a turned-down manuscript or unsatisfied client.